More than a million students flooded New York City classrooms on Thursday, the first day of classes for 2016-17.
In what has become a back-to-school tradition, Chancellor Carmen Fariña went on a five-borough tour to showcase the education department’s priorities and new initiatives. Mayor Bill de Blasio joined for a few stops, and made others on his own, to highlight the department’s Equity and Excellence agenda.
7:55 a.m.: The day started with a stroll to I.S. 392 in Brownsville, Brooklyn, with de Blasio, first lady Chirlane McCray and Fariña accompanying Chyna Huertas, a seventh-grade student, to school.
Also along for the walk was Rashida Sealey, a Single Shepherd guidance counselor who will keep an eye on Chyna as she works her way through middle school.
The Single Shepherd initiative is new this year. It brings about 100 additional counselors to schools in District 23 in Brooklyn and District 7 in the South Bronx — both of which have among the lowest graduation rates in the city.
The ratio of students to counselors in those schools will be 100 to one — a potentially heavy load in a challenging community, but still below the nationally recommended limit for guidance counselors.
“Sometimes, all it takes is an additional adult in a young child’s life,” McCray said. “The Single Shepherd program is going to be so helpful with that.”
Each middle- and high-school student in the targeted districts will be paired with a counselor who will do “whatever it takes,” Fariña said recently, to make sure the student ultimately graduates and goes to college. That means working not only with students, but families too.
“This is going to make a real difference for our school,” said I.S. 392 Principal Ingrid Joseph.
10 a.m.: Claudia Ramirez wasted no time. Within the first hours of the new school year, her third-graders at P.S. 254 The Rosa Parks School in Queens were busy learning computer programming.
Groups of students arranged colorful sheets of construction paper in a grid on the floor. Under one of them, a picture of Superman was hidden. One student gave directions to help another move forward and backward, left and right, to find the hidden image.
Though the lesson was “unplugged” — students didn’t touch a computer or look at a screen — it was designed to demonstrate a basic aspect of computer programming: the concept of an algorithm.
“We are growing our kids to ultimately be programmers,” Fariña said.
Ramirez was trained over the summer in how to deliver these kinds of lessons and said the experience had an immediate impact on her teaching. Without it, she explained, she would probably be doing a simple get-to-know-you activity on the first day of school.
“As a teacher, you see the interest of students is video games, Minecraft and technology, and I wanted to get better [at reaching them],” she said.
The Department of Education is launching its Computer Science for All program in 200 additional elementary, middle and high schools this year, bringing officials closer to their goal of offering the subject in every school by 2025.
11:15 a.m.: Ronny Veloz was excited to talk to his partner. He had some ideas about why David, a character in the book their literacy coach was reading aloud, was making a mess in the lunchroom.
“Maybe because he didn’t wait his turn,” Ronny guessed.
Later the coach, Yokasta Sanchez, would coax Ronny to use complete sentences when sharing his reasoning with the whole class. It was one of the strategies that Sanchez was trained in over 15 days this summer before starting her new position at Rafael Hernandez Dual Language Magnet School in the Bronx.
The Department of Education has flooded Districts 9, 10, 17 and 32 — which have among the lowest reading scores in the city — with additional literacy coaches this year. They will support teachers by providing tips and modeling lessons to help build better readers. Their focus will be on kindergarten through second grade.
“They are not assigned to school to do coverages or be substitutes. They are there for one purpose only, and that is to be literacy coaches assisting teachers,” Fariña said. “And that is a real shift from things in the past.”
De Blasio and Fariña have set ambitious literacy goals for the city’s young learners. By 2026, they aim to have every third-grade student reading on grade level. When de Blasio first took office, only about 30 percent of city students were proficient in English by third grade.
Noon: Lucia Herndon just started seventh grade, but she is already thinking about college.
On the first day of school, Lucia was in a college advisement class at Washington Heights Academy M.S. 366, thinking about careers she might want to pursue. She has already visited Barnard College and several others.
“I like the idea of going to a women’s college that encourages female empowerment,” she said.
After a pilot this spring, the Department of Education is rolling out College Access for All at 167 middle schools across 10 districts this school year. Designed to get students thinking about college and careers early, the program aims to eventually include campus tours for all middle schoolers, advising sessions like the one Lucia was in Thursday, and family supports like workshops on how to apply to schools.
“It’s really important to have a goal in your mind, and know where you want to go,” Fariña told the students in Washington Heights.
1:45 p.m.: The day ended at Port Richmond Community High School on Staten Island, a community school that partners with organizations to offer students health care and mentoring along with family assistance like a food pantry and parent fitness programs.
“This is one of the things that really typifies community schools: The notion of reaching a child, every part of them, everything they need to excel,” Mayor de Blasio said at a press conference after touring the school.
De Blasio has made community schools a key feature of his effort to turn around struggling schools. There are more than 100 already throughout the city, and plans to add another hundred by the end of 2017. The model has been lauded nationally, though there are questions over whether the added supports translate into academic gains.